Obsessively Explaining The Visual Effects In Flight Of The Navigator

[Captain Disillusion] has earned a reputation on YouTube for debunking hoaxes and spreading a healthy sense of skepticism while having some of the highest production value on the platform and pretending to be some kind of inter-dimensional superhero. You’ve likely seen him give a careful explanation of how some viral video was faked alongside a generous dose of sarcastic humor and his own impressive visual effects. VFXcool is a series on his channel that takes deep dives into movies that are historically significant in the effects industry. For this installment, [Captain Disillusion]’s “intern”, [Alan], takes over to breakdown how filmmakers brought a futuristic spaceship to life in 1986’s Flight of the Navigator.

Making a movie requires hacks upon hacks, and that goes double in the era when the technology and techniques we now take for granted were being developed even as they were being put to film. The range of topics covered here is extreme: from full-scale props to models; from robotic motion control rigs to stop motion animation; from early computer graphics to the convoluted optical compositing that was necessary before digital workflows were possible. The tools themselves may be outdated, but understanding the history and the processes allows for a deeper insight into how we accomplish these kinds of effects today. And, really, it’s just so… cool.

[Captain Disillusion]’s previous VFXcool is all about the Back to the Future trilogy, and it’s a little shorter with more information on motion control rigs. We also love seeing how people make DIY effects in their own homes. LEGO actually seems like a pretty popular option for putting together whole scenes in amateur filmmaking.

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Falcon 9 Lamp Is Touching Down In The Living Room

Many of us have been inspired by the videos of the Falcon 9 booster, tall as an office building, riding a pillar of flame down to a pinpoint landing at Kennedy Space Center or on one of SpaceX’s floating landing pads in the ocean. It’s not often that we get to see science fiction fantasy become reality on such a short timescale, and while they might not be sold on the practicality of reusable rockets, even the most skeptical of observers have to admit it’s an incredible feat of engineering.

Though it can’t quite compare to the real thing, this 1:60 scale Falcon 9 lamp by [Sir Michael II] promises to bring a little of that excitement home every time you flick on the light. Combining a scratch built model of the reusable booster with some RGB LEDs, the hovering tableau recreates the tense final seconds before the towering rocket comes to a rest on its deployable landing legs. We imagine those last moments must seem like an eternity for the SpaceX engineers watching from home as well.

The LED “exhaust” without the fluff.

[Michael] walks readers through assembling the Falcon 9 model, which cleverly uses a 2 inch white PVC pipe as the fuselage. After all, why waste the time and material printing a long white cylinder when you can just buy one at the hardware store for a few bucks?

Dressed up with 3D printed details from Thingiverse user [twuelfing] and splashed with a bit of paint, it makes for a very convincing model. While the diameter of the pipe isn’t quite right for the claimed 1:60 scale, unless Elon Musk is coming over your place to hang out, we don’t think anyone will notice.

The rocket is attached to the pad with a piece of threaded steel rod, around which [Michael] has wrapped one meter of RGB LEDs controlled by an Arduino Uno. With some polyester fiber filler as a diffuser and a bit of code to get the LEDs flickering, he’s able to produce a realistic “flame” that looks to be coming from the Falcon 9’s center engine. While we admit it may not make a very good lamp in the traditional sense, it certainly gets extra points for style.

We’ve actually seen a similar trick used before to light up the engines of a LEGO Saturn V and Apollo Lunar Module. It’s amazing how realistic the effect can be, and we’d love to see it used more often. We’d also like to see more model rockets that actually levitate over their pads, but one step at a time.

Toy O-Scope Is Dope

Not many of our childhood doll and action figure’s accessories revolved around lab equipment except maybe an Erlenmeyer flask if they were a “scientist.” No, they tended to be toasters, vehicles, and guns. When we were young, our heroes made food, drove sexy automobiles, and fought bad guys. Now that we’re older, some of our heroes wield soldering irons, keyboards, and oscilloscopes. [Adrian Herbez] made a scale model oscilloscope that outshines the beakers and test tube racks of yesteryear. Video also shown below. Continue reading “Toy O-Scope Is Dope”

Wooden Tank’s Movement Hinges On Hinges

When we first looked at this tank, we thought it was pretty cool. The sides are unpainted 1/2″ (12mm) plywood, so it is not flashy. The dimensions came from Google-fu-ing the heck out of the WWII Hetzer and scaling them to 1:6. What knocks our socks off is how much [Bret Tallent] made use of parts you would find in a hardware store or bicycle shop. He uses twin motors from electric bikes, and the wheels look like replacement shopping cart wheels. The best part is the treads, which are dozens of hinges fastened with pairs of bolts and nylon-insert nuts. Something is reassuring about knowing that a repair to your baby is no further than a bike ride.

We don’t know what started [Bret] on his path to sidewalk superiority, but we suspect he is cooped up like the rest of us and looking to express himself. Mini-Hetzer is not licensed by Power Wheels and never will be, so it probably won’t turn into a business anytime soon. There is a complete gallery starting with an empty plywood base, and the pictures tell the story of how this yard Jäger got to this point. There are plans to add a paintball gun and streaming video, so we’d advise that you don’t mess with the jack-o-lanterns on his block this year. Give his gallery a view and see if you don’t become inspired to cobble something clever from the hardware store too. Then, tell us about it.

Another creative hacker used wood for their tank body and the treads as well. If you like your treaded vehicles functional, we have one meant to taxi small planes over the tarmac.

Recreating Classic Model Kits With Modern Tech

It used to be that if you wanted to make a nice scale model of an airplane, you’d be building the frame out of thin balsa ribs and covering it all up with tissue paper. Which incidentally was more or less how they built most real airplanes prior to the 1930s, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to do the same on a smaller scale. But once injection molded plastics caught on, wood and tissue model kits largely went the way of the dodo.

[Marius Taciuc] wanted to share that classic model building experience with his son, but rather than trying to hunt down balsa kits in 2019, he decided to recreate the concept with modern techniques. His model of the Supermarine Spitfire, the vanguard of the British RAF during the Second World War, recreates the look of those early model kits but substitutes 3D printed or laser cut components for the fragile balsa strips of yore. The materials might be high-tech, but as evidenced by the video after the break, building the thing is still just as time consuming as ever.

Using a laser cutter to produce the parts would be the fastest method to get your own kit put together (you could even cut the parts out of balsa in that case), but you’ll still need a 3D printer for some components such as the propeller and cowling. On the other hand, if you 3D print all the parts like [Marius] did, you can use a soldering iron to quickly and securely “weld” everything together. For anyone who might be wondering, despite the size of the final plane, all of the individual components have been sized so everything is printable on a fairly standard 200 x 200 mm print bed.

While there’s no question the finished product looks beautiful, some might be wondering if it’s really worth the considerable effort and time necessary to produce and assemble the dizzying number of components required. To that end, [Marius] says it’s more of a learning experience than anything. Sure he could have bought a simplified plastic Spitfire model and assembled it with his son in an afternoon, but would they have really learned anything about its real-world counterpart? By assembling the plane piece by piece, it gives them a chance to really examine the nuances of this legendary aircraft.

We don’t often see much from the modeling world here on Hackaday, but not for lack of interest. We’ve always been in awe of the lengths modelers will go to get that perfect scale look, from the incredible technology packed into tiny fighter planes to large scale reproductions of iconic engines. If you’ve got some awesome model making tips that you think the Hackaday readership might be interested in, don’t be shy.

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Raspberry Pi Breathes Life Into A Scale Model SEGA

Miniature game consoles are all the rage right now. Many of the big names in gaming are releasing their own official “mini” versions of their classic machines, but naturally we see plenty of DIY builds around these parts as well. Generally they’re enclosed in a 3D printed model of whatever system they’re looking to emulate, but as you might expect that involves a lot of sanding and painting to achieve a professional look.

But for SEGA Genesis (or Mega Drive as it was known outside the US) fans, there’s a new option. A company by the name of Retro Electro Models has released a high-fidelity scale model of SEGA’s classic console, so naturally somebody hacked it to hold a Raspberry Pi. Wanting to do the scale detailing of the model justice, [Andrew Armstrong] went the extra mile to get the power button on the front of the console working, and even added support for swapping games via RFID tags.

[Andrew] uses the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ which ended up being the perfect size to fit inside the model. Fitting the Pi Zero would have been even easier, but it lacks the horsepower of its bigger siblings. The RFID reader is connected to the Pi over SPI, and the reed switch used to detect when the power switch has been moved is wired directly to the GPIO pins. The system is powered by a USB cable soldered directly to Pi’s PCB and ran out a small hole in the back of the case.

For input, [Andrew] is using a small wireless keyboard that includes a touch pad and gaming controls. Unfortunately, it has a proprietary receiver which had to be integrated into the system. In a particularly nice touch, he used snipped off component leads to “wire” the receiver’s PCB directly to the pins of the Pi’s USB port. Not only does it look cool, but provides a rigid enough connection that he didn’t even need to glue it down to keep it from rattling around inside the case. Definitely a tip to keep in the back of your mind.

The software side of this project is about what you’d expect for an emulation console, though with the added trickery of loading games based on their RFID tag. At this point [Andrew] only has a single “cartridge” for the system, so he simply drops the tags into the cartridge slot of the console to load up a new title. It doesn’t look like Retro Electro Models is selling loose cartridges (which makes sense, all things considered), so there might still be a job for your 3D printer yet if you want to have a library of scale cartridges to go with your console.

For those of you who were on Team Nintendo in the 1990’s, we’ve seen a similar build done with a 3D printed case. Of course, if even these consoles are a bit too recent for your tastes, you could build a miniature Vectrex instead.

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The Fine Art Of Restoring Matchbox Cars

Did you have anything planned for the next hour or so? No? That’s good because if you’re anything like us, watching even one of the restorations performed on [Marty’s Matchbox Makeovers] is likely to send you down a deep dark rabbit hole that you never knew existed. Even if you can’t tell the difference between Hot Wheels and Matchbox (seriously, that’s a big deal in the community), there’s something absolutely fascinating about seeing all the little tips and tricks used to bring these decades-old toy cars back into like new condition.

Sketching a replacement part to be 3D printed.

You might think that all it takes to restore a Matchbox car is striping the paint off, buffing up the windows, and respraying the thing; and indeed you wouldn’t be too far off the mark in some cases. But you’ve got to remember that these little cars have often been through decades of some of the worst operating conditions imaginable. That is, being the plaything of a human child. While some of the cars that [Marty] rebuilds are in fairly good condition to begin with, many of them look like they’ve just come back from a miniature demolition derby.

The ones which have had the hardest lives are invariably the most interesting. Some of the fixes, like heating up the interior and manually bending the steering wheel back into shape, are fairly simple. But what do you do when a big chunk of the vehicle is simply gone? In those cases, [Marty] will combine cyanoacrylate “super glue” with baking powder to fill in voids; and after filing, sanding, and painting, you’d never know it was ever damaged.

When a car needs more than just paint to finish it off, [Marty] will research the original toy and make new water slide decals to match what it would have looked like originally. If it’s missing accessories, such as the case with trucks which were meant to carry scale cargo, he’ll take careful measurements so he can design and print new parts. With some sanding and a touch of paint, you’d never know they weren’t original.

There’s plenty of arcane knowledge to be gained from folks like [Marty] who have experience with scale models. We don’t often see much of that come our way, but when we do, we’re always impressed at the lengths individuals will go to get that perfect end result. Whether or not you think you’ll find yourself rebuilding a pocket-sized school bus anytime soon, we think there are lessons to be learned from those who might. Continue reading “The Fine Art Of Restoring Matchbox Cars”